Category Archives: From the Staff

From the Director ~ Thanksgiving 2023

Dear friends,

Happy Thanksgiving! As we pause to consider our blessings here at the Mission, there’s not enough room to list them all! One thing in particular strikes me – the more trials we go through, the more problems we face, the more we realize how much we’ve had to be thankful for all along.

Before the arson fire that burned us down in 2006, I didn’t feel particularly thankful for the everyday messes of Mission life. Quite the opposite – at times I complained about them in my heart. After the fire, the clean-out and rebuilding process was long and hard. For two years and nine months our dorm was closed. Our drop-in services were minimal compared to the comprehensive services we once offered. Then came Monday, November 24, 2008. We reopened our doors and invited the first 13 men into our newly rebuilt facility. As I was wiping up crumbs from the dining table after we served our first lunch, it hit me – this was a good mess, a blessed and holy one! I gave God thanks for it, and I vowed then and there to thank Him for the messes yet to come, because they are signs that life is happening here, that transformation and restoration are in process. I took the privilege of serving for granted until it was lost in the fire. But the Mission’s restoration brought sweeter joy and greater thanks than I could have known before the hardship that took it all away.

Many of our men have a similar experience when coming to the Mission. They come at a low point, having lost so much. But as different aspects of life are restored bit by bit, they begin to give thanks for things they once took for granted. It makes me think of Cody. It’s been 9 years since Cody graduated from the New Life Program, and he still routinely mails or drops off cards of encouragement for Mission staff. Just recently Cody came by to drop off some cards and he handed me an envelope. It was a cash donation for our work. On the outside he had written his name and a note that said “Thank you for saving my life. I love the Whosoever Gospel Mission.” Before Cody came to the Mission, he spent just about every day for 15 long years sitting on the front steps of a house in the neighborhood, holding a bottle in a brown paper bag. Since graduating from the Mission, Cody has never turned back. He is full of joy and life, and his heart overflows with love and thankfulness. He is grateful he’s not on a front stoop with a bottle in his hand. From time to time he’ll look at one of us as he remembers, and he’ll shake his head and say “Can you believe it?”

Another thing I’m thankful for – something I don’t want to take for granted – is you. I realize that our ability to exist and to offer our services to the men who come to us is dependent upon the generosity and support of friends like yourself. Your prayers and support are critical to the life transformation of men like Cody. You are an integral part of all our stories. And I give thanks for you. Thank you for being part of our Mission family. The Lord richly bless you and yours this year as you pause and gather to give thanks.

With thankfulness for you,

Heather L. Rice, D.Min.
Executive Director

Kevin enjoying his meal on Thanksgiving Day, 2022
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4 Ways You Can Help this Holiday Season

New Unwrapped Toys & Gifts

Each year, homeless dads living at the Mission give gifts to hundreds of their kids & grandkids. For many men, it’s a first step toward reconnecting with family. See the joy of our toy giveaway firsthand here. We need your help again!

Here’s how you can help:
Buy new, unwrapped toys, stocking stuffers & gifts for ages 0-18 (especially gifts valued at $25 or less).

Deadline: Monday, December 11th
Call Tina at 215 438 3094 x 104 by Dec. 4th to arrange for drop-off or pick-up.

Gift Bags for 55 Men Experiencing Homelessness

Let our men know they are loved! Fill small party favor bags with special snacks, Christmas cookies, or with things like lotion, lip balm, tissues, etc. (please don’t mix food and soap).

Or, contribute towards larger gifts that we’re putting together for each resident. Call Heather at (215) 438-3094 x 103 to coordinate. We’re gathering things like umbrellas, laundry bags, portfolio folders, gift cards, thermal mugs, calendars, small personal storage containers & the like.

Deadline: Monday, Dec 18th
Call Tina at 215 438 3094 x 104 by Dec. 4th to arrange for drop-off or pick-up.

Dormitory Needs

We are always in need of the following items:

  • Large Bath Towels
  • Twin Sheet Sets (colors and patterns are great!)
  • Large Shower Shoes for Men
  • Full-size Bottles of Shampoo for Men
  • Laundry Bags/Collapsible Hampers
  • New Reusable Water Bottles
  • New Thermal Travel Mugs
  • Gel Toilet Bowl Cleaner
  • Foaming Tub and Tile Cleaner (in cans)

If ordering online, you can ship directly to the Mission at 101 E. Chelten Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19144.

Food Drives & Gift Cards

If you’d like to do a food drive for us, please call Heather at (215) 438-3094 x 103 for current needs.

We could also always use the following gift cards for perishable items and other urgent supply needs as they arise:

Walmart (also good at Sam’s Club)
The Home Depot
Lowe’s Home Improvement
BJ’s Wholesale Club

Call Tina at 215 438 3094 x 104 to arrange for drop-off, pick-up, mail-in, or e-gift delivery.

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From the Director ~ October 2023

Dear Friends,

Happy Fall! As we launch into our new fiscal year this month, so many good things are happening at the Mission. We’re about to get 59 much-needed new windows installed in our dorm building within the next month. Our beds are full, and we have a waiting list of men seeking to enter. We’re pleased, by God’s grace, to continue offering a full array of physical, spiritual, educational, social, and vocational supports and services. We rejoice with four men who just graduated and moved into their own places, and we’re excited to see what God has for us this year.

As we come to the holidays, we need your help! Please check out the enclosed handout for ways you can make a big difference in the lives of our men. The Fall also marks the beginning of workplace giving campaigns. The happy news is that through your workplace giving campaign, you can designate your gift to the Whosoever Gospel Mission.

  • The United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey – donate to the Mission through United Way’s Donor Choice Option. Our Code Number is 1045.
  • The Combined Federal Campaign – federal employees can choose the Mission to receive their gift through the CFC. Our Code Number is 69784.
  • The City of Philadelphia Employees’ Combined Campaign – the Whosoever Gospel Mission is listed in the Contributor’s Guide under the category: Independent Charities Vetted by America’s Charities. Our Code Number is 30-0047.
  • United Campaigns in other states and regions – you can still designate your gift to the Whosoever Gospel Mission even if you live and work in another state or region of the country. Check your campaign booklet or ask your workplace United Way coordinator.
  • America’s Charities, Network for Good, Benevity Causes, CAF America, U of P Pennsway Campaign, and the Blackbaud Giving Fund as well as others provide a platform for several workplace giving campaigns throughout the region – check with your company’s workplace giving coordinator to find out how you can designate your gift to the Mission if your workplace uses one of these employee giving platforms.
  • Matching Gift Programs – many companies will match their employees’ gifts to a non-profit dollar for dollar. Check with your employer to see if they have a Matching Gift Program. You may be able to double your gift to the Mission at no additional cost to you.

Your gifts are being used every day to encourage and equip our men with the tools and resources they need – not simply to get back on their feet, but to enjoy long-term success as productive, contributing members of our community. Thank you! The Lord bless you.

Grace and peace,

Heather L. Rice, D.Min.
Executive Director

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From the Director ~ September 2023

Dear friends

As we come to the end of our fiscal year here at the Mission, I look back over the past twelve months and I see so many ways that the Lord has blessed us through you! Thank you!! Because of you we’ve been able to continue the essential life-saving work that’s been going on here at 101 East Chelten Avenue for over a century. Through your generosity, we’ve been able to continue building upon the solid foundation of the New Life Program, growing our team, and strengthening our services. That translates into more of the good things we experience here every day – the building of relationships, greater freedom from addictions, stronger family bonds, vocational and educational development, increasing confidence, deepening hope in the face of daunting obstacles, and spiritual, emotional, social, and physical healing and growth.

The impact of these things ripples out to reach beyond a man’s stay in the New Life Program. I was reminded of this today when Mission graduate Joey stopped by with his young granddaughter (who was just a toddler the last time I saw her!). I told her she was growing, to which she proudly replied “That’s because I’ve been putting food in my mouth to get bigger.” While Joey and I were having a good chuckle over this, she spontaneously leaned in to give me a big hug. She adores her “Pawpaw” (and shares a bit of his southern accent!). It was delightful to see them. It struck me that this little one has the blessing of a wonderful grandfather in large part because friends like you invested in her pawpaw when he was at the Mission rebuilding his life seven years ago. He’s still doing well today.

Our beds are full and we continue to provide comprehensive services every day including classes, tutoring, counseling, chapels, vocational readiness training, addiction recovery support, and the like. It’s been our joy to continue helping our guys with 50% of their security deposit and move-in expense as they graduate and secure their own permanent housing. Lots of folks respond to special needs that we share (like making up New Home Welcome Baskets to give to men as they set up their new apartments, or dropping off fresh garden produce and homemade baked goods, or coming in to serve as a technology tutor, or responding to a needs list). We are grateful!

We’ve also been building our staff which in turn allows us to focus more on individual residents and their unique needs. That’s essential to the heart of our ministry. The New Life Program’s strength lies in the relationships that form as we seek to obey the two Great Commandments – to love God and love others. Thank you for joining us in sharing God’s love with the men He sends our way. I’m excited and grateful to head into this new fiscal year together with you! Please continue to support us with your generous gifts – we’d be most grateful. The Lord bless and keep you in His steadfast love!

Grace and peace,

Heather L. Rice, D.Min.
Executive Director

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From the Director ~ July/August 2023

Dear friends,

Blessings to you! I hope you are finding some rest and renewal in the somewhat slower rhythms of summer. Here at the Mission, all of our classes and activities continue full-speed ahead. Just last week one of our residents, Kevin, took and passed two of the five HiSET exams needed to get his high school equivalency diploma. Others are working earnestly towards theirs. Eleven of our residents are currently employed and working on budgets to save up and move into their own place, while another eight men are currently seeking employment.

In the midst of all of the normal hustle and bustle of Mission life, we had the joy of pressing the pause button and setting apart Monday, June 19th this year for our first all-Mission Juneteenth celebration. We closed the thrift store and cancelled all classes and regular work, and we met together for a special program followed by a catered BBQ lunch from Sweet Lucy’s and a time of recreation and relaxation. Check out the next page for photos of the festivities.

For the program, Composer-Vocalist Ruth Naomi Floyd, along with Aaron Graves on piano and Lee W. Smith on double bass, shared a concert with historical and theological commentary about Juneteenth – the day in 1865 on which Union troops freed enslaved African Americans in Texas two months after the end of the Civil War (and 2½ years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation). Juneteenth has been celebrated as a holiday in Texas since the 1860s, and was made an official holiday of the State of Texas in 1980. But the story of Juneteenth has only recently made its way to some of us. As I’m sure you’re aware, it’s now a national holiday.

During this special concert, we were led on a journey through holy lament and defiant joy, considering what it means to reach for beauty in the midst of suffering. We looked at the real hope and joy that we find in Jesus, our Savior who knows what it is to suffer, because He suffered too. But suffering doesn’t get the final word. That’s why we celebrate! The concert ended with Ruth Naomi Floyd inviting us all to sing “O Happy Day” with her. The music was phenomenal – all three musicians are recording artists in their own right. As one gentleman shared afterwards, “you folks could have gone ANYWHERE today, but you’re here with us. Thank you.” Another resident who’s going through some heavy suffering of his own told me the next morning, “Yesterday, that was amazing. And last night, there was a peace that settled around here. You could feel it.”

I want to take this moment to pause and thank you for your part in making all of these things possible. Thank you for investing in the lives of our men, offering a hand-up to brothers in need, encouraging them to reach for beauty in the midst of hard things.

Grace and peace,

Heather L. Rice, D.Min.
Executive Director

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From the Director ~ June 2023

Dear friends,

I hope you’re enjoying the sunshine and warmth of these delightful days. It certainly makes my heart (and the flowers on my patio) happy. Today was especially warm and sunny, which made tonight’s dessert an extra welcome treat – brownie sundaes, compliments of the church that joined us for dinner and chapel this evening. Speaking of desserts – we like them, a lot! If you ever want to bake some brownies, cookies, cupcakes, lemon squares, or the like, and drop them off at the Mission, you’d make our men very happy indeed! We’d also love your excess garden produce – we serve a fresh salad at every lunch and dinner.

Our meal times are so important. They’re about more than just food. A great meal is a welcome treat in the midst of really hard work. The hard work our guys are laboring through isn’t just physical. It’s also social, spiritual, mental, and emotional. It’s learning and relearning how to process the past and deep hurts they have suffered. It’s retraining our bodies to get up in the morning and follow a schedule, to eat well, and to get sleep. It’s practicing forgiveness and extending grace to others in relationship, even as we learn to receive forgiveness and grace ourselves. It’s starting new habits and exercising self-discipline. It’s building relationships with people and no longer trying to do life alone. It’s learning to live together in community.

This togetherness is essential to the success of every man that comes to the Mission for help. Often, when a man first arrives at the Mission, he’s thinking only of his most immediate needs – food, shelter, clothing, addiction recovery, or maybe employment. But as he comes and settles in his dorm room and starts to engage in the New Life Program, the Mission family begins to envelop him in community life. We develop real relationships with one another. We eat and laugh together. We pray and worship together. We cry and seek the Lord together.

It’s not a one-way street. As we do these things, we encourage and build one another up. Together, the men, staff and volunteers build up and encourage each other. For an example of what this looks like, check out this story about one of our current residents, Dave, and his counselor, Steve. This is what community looks like. We need each other. Thank you for being a part of our community, and for your continued support through these summer months (especially with the high cost of cooling our buildings!). Because of you, we are stronger.

The Lord bless you and yours with rich and life-giving community.

Grace and peace,

Heather L. Rice, D.Min.
Executive Director

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From the Director ~ April 2023

Dear Friends,

We are so grateful for you and for all of the ways you come alongside us to help and bless and lift up the men who come to the Mission looking to rebuild their lives. Your prayers and financial support, the special meals your provide, the items you send in from our needs list, the hours you volunteer, the information you share about available resources and job openings, and so many other things – the Lord uses all of it to restore men to homes and families and jobs and life. We couldn’t do it alone. Thank you!

Please pray for a specific need we have for a few tech-savvy volunteer tutors who can come in for a couple hours during the day each week and sit with a gentleman in our computer lab to help him fill out online job applications. If you’re interested in exploring this volunteer opportunity yourself, please give me a call at (215) 438-3094 x 103. Thanks!

Computers are a gateway to so many things these days. But for people experiencing homelessness, many times, that gateway is locked. Reliable internet access from an actual PC (rather than just a smart phone), along a with a good printer (not to mention a supply of toner and paper), is critical for successfully connecting with many resources, supports and services. But access isn’t enough. You have to know your way around. If you weren’t born into the generation that lives and breathes technology, using a PC for the first time can be difficult. It’s like trying to find your way in a foreign land where you don’t know the language. Still, using a computer is necessary for everything from creating a resume and applying for a job, to doing online banking, balancing a personal budget with a spreadsheet, downloading pay stubs, and so much more.

That’s why we not only keep our computer lab well-stocked and up-to-date with the latest equipment and software, but we also teach every man who enters the New Life Program how to use a computer. We have a 4-week Introduction to Computers class as well as more advanced classes, incentives to spend time in online typing tutorials, and individualized coaching. When Moses first came into the New Life Program, he was terrified of computers. He laughs when he recalls how afraid he was to even touch one! Now, Moses is on staff with us, and he encourages new men not to be afraid. He assures them that if he can learn, then they can, too!

Thank you again for partnering with us to share God’s love in words and in actions. We thank God for you! The Lord richly bless you and yours with His mercy, love and grace!

Grace and peace,

Heather L. Rice, D.Min.
Executive Director

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Celebrate with us!

Celebrating the retirement of Rev. Dr. Robert A. Emberger

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Service begins at 2:00 pm
Heavy hors d’oeuvres to follow at 3:45 pm

Calvary Presbyterian Church
405 Easton Rd., Willow Grove PA 19090
(On Rt. 611 heading north, on the right just above where
Routes 263 & 611 separate; or on the left heading south on Rt. 611 from the PA Turnpike Willow Grove interchange)

Cost: FREE
There is no charge, but reservations are required because of space limitations

Calvary Presbyterian Church has a wonderful,
large onsite parking lot.

RSVP by April 7, 2023:
To reserve, please call Tina at (215) 438-3094 x 104 with your name, phone number, name of the group you’re calling for (if applicable), and number in your party.

We thank the Lord for Bob and his faithful service over these past 34 years! During his tenure as Executive Director from February 1989 until February 2022, Bob developed and continually refined the New Life Program that today equips men with the skills and resources they need to overcome addictions, homelessness and countless other barriers to joyful, independent living.

In March of 2022, Bob stepped down from the directorship for health reasons but has continued to serve in vital support roles, advancing the work of the Mission and helping to ensure a smooth leadership transition.

Bob’s love, passion, and work have impacted our community for over 34 years. Under his leadership, the Mission’s resources, program services and the impact they have on individual men and their families have grown exponentially. This is reason to celebrate!

Join us for a service of singing, testimonies, and a message from the Word by the Rev. Dr. Bruce Alick, followed by a time of fellowship with heavy hors d’oeuvres and desserts. We hope to see you there!

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From the Director ~ March 2023

Dear friends,

Right about now, if you’re anything like me, you might be really ready for spring. Winter had its place, but I am eager to be warm, to have more hours of glorious sunshine, and to see the barren landscape around us come alive with color (my allergies may not agree with me on that last one!). I know I’m not alone. Winter can definitely be a hard, cold, and barren time.

Sometimes we find ourselves in a season of life that kind of feels like winter. That’s certainly true for many of the men who come to the Mission. We work hard to offer hopeful signs of a coming spring, a new season of life. As I write this, we’re preparing to hand out special winter blessing bags to the men tonight. They were made with love by friends of the Mission. I’ll also be hanging up some posters that local school children made and dropped off today to brighten our walls. Countless little blessings like these serve as markers of hope – hints that a new season is coming.

Seeing other men succeed and graduate and move into their own place is also a sign of hope for men currently in the Program. Just last week, Rob rented a U-Haul, loaded up his belongings (including his New Home Welcome Kit full of supplies for setting up his new place) and moved out. He’s coming back tonight to celebrate what God has done in his life at his graduation ceremony. He texted me this morning just to assure me he would be here and was excited for tonight! Rob is enjoying this new season of life.

Rob and his U-Haul on the night he moved out

Some season changes are harder than others, especially when the passing season has been so rich and delightful. That’s what we’re experiencing now as our own beloved director and leader of three wonderful decades, Bob Emberger, is stepping more and more out of daily Mission life and into retirement, with his declining health being the driving factor. Do keep him in prayer! On a joyful note, please see this invitation and make plans to celebrate the fruit of faithful ministry with us at his official retirement celebration on April 22nd. We weren’t able to gather sooner because of COVID. We’re glad we can finally gather to celebrate him! I hope you can join us! Details and information on how to reserve a place are here (tickets are free, but reservations are required due to space limitations).

As always, thank you for your part in sharing God’s love with all who come through our doors! God’s richest blessings to you and yours!

Grace and peace,

Heather L. Rice, D.Min.
Executive Director

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From the Director ~ Jan/Feb 2023

Dear friends,

Happy New Year! I hope you had a joyous holiday. WE certainly did, in large part because many of YOU made it so! It would be impossible to personally thank everyone who generously gave to make our celebrations what they were. The holidays can be quite difficult and lonely. Some of our guys really struggled. But the homemade cookies and treats, the special decorations, the gifts for our men and their children, the amazing feasts and chapel services – all of this is a tangible expression of the love of Jesus whose birth we celebrated.

As one gentleman shared, it made him “feel like a person” for the first time in a while. Another man said with tears as he gathered toys for his kids, “I never had a Christmas before. I was never in a place to celebrate it. But this is really beautiful. I can’t thank you all enough.” Thank you for blessing our men with these gifts – not just candy, homemade cookies, toys, umbrellas, travel mugs, wallets, towels, and the like. You gave the most basic and precious gifts of being seen and recognized and loved. You gave men the gift of being able to connect with and bless their kids. That meant the world to many men this Christmas. Thank you.

Then we rang in the New Year with pizza and chicken fingers and a party to celebrate God’s provision in the past year and His promises for the one ahead. Thank you for your part in it all! The Lord wove together everyone’s efforts to truly make the Mission a home for the holidays. These photos of our Christmas party and toy giveaway will give you a glimpse of the fun we had and the joy it brought. The men collectively share their thanks and blessings with you!

As we head into 2023, please pray with me for the Lord’s continued wisdom, guidance, and provision. We’re always looking for ways to do what we do better, to stretch dollars further, and to love more extravagantly. This past Fall our staff attended training to help us better understand trauma and how people heal. We’re excited to do more things like that this year. Please also pray for our men. Pray for good jobs, freedom from addictions, restored family relationships, and for health and healing. Pray for each resident who comes to the Mission over the next year to feel God’s love in a tangible way and to know His peace.

Also, as you make plans for the Spring, please save Saturday, April 22nd at 2 pm to join us at Calvary Presbyterian Church in Willow Grove to celebrate Rev. Dr. Bob Emberger’s retirement from full-time ministry after 33 years as Executive Director. The Lord has used Bob to not only develop and grow the New Life Program itself, but also to develop our wonderful staff and the financial means to carry it all out. There’s no cost for the event, but we will need to have a count because of limited seating capacity at the church. More details and a formal invitation will follow in early March. I hope you can come!

As always, we are grateful for and humbled by your partnership with us in the Gospel. Thank you for helping us share good news and a way forward with all who come through our doors. Please keep us in mind as the winter heating bills rise! The Lord bless you and keep you in His grace!

Grace and peace,

Heather L. Rice, D.Min.
Executive Director

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